THEY call them “apples from trees”: the sons who follow their fathers into crime; the daughters who follow their mothers.
Anyone who has lived or worked in one of Scotland’s most disadvantaged communities knows gangsterism often runs in families. They increasingly also know it does not have to be this way.
For the last few years various schemes have sought to break a generational cycle of offending. At least one focuses on offering a way out of gangland for young people brought up in its midst.
But now a new report – based on a year and a half of fieldwork interviewing those most affected – reveals much more could be done, at school and beyond, to tackle the culture which makes organised crime as much a cause of poverty as its symptom.
The report, titled Community Experiences of Serious Organised Crime in Scotland, cites usually unheard voices on gangland culture.
A series of anonymised contributions from those who live or work in communities affected by organised crime, set out the raw reality of growing up in or close to crime families.
“‘Apples from trees’ we call it,” one local man told researchers. “I’ve tackled some of the parents who had been involved in serious crime, and their sons are following the same route. Their attitude is, if he doesn’t do it, someone else will. It’s like providing a service, and that’s how they justify it.”
Another contributor added that what he called “pro-criminal families” were “really important”. He said:” Some of the people we work with, you can sometimes go back to their grandparents being involved in armed robbery and extortion. That whole criminal viewpoint that being a criminal is a good thing, the establishment is a bad thing. No-one is to be trusted. It’s a cultural thing. For some kids it’s expectation – there’s an expectation that you’ll behave in a certain way, you’re a chip off the old block.”
The charity Action for Children – whose Scottish director Paul Carberry sits on Scotland’s national organised crime task force – has been running a tailor-made programme for 12-16-year-olds on the cusp of organised crime since 2012.
Another recent study found that two-thirds of the young people on the scheme – considered potential gangland enforcers – had reduced their offending.
Academics, in a rare qualitative report from the communities on the front line of organised crime, found evidence of children driven into the hands of gangs by poverty. Their report came out after a spate of gangland shootings in Glasgow, including last year’s attack near a school in Penilee.
The academics cite one resident remembering “a wee guy, he was about six or seven, who used to spend his nights on the street directing people to the houses to buy drugs”. The boy needed the cash, the contributor said: “His mother was an alcoholic, his dad wasn’t there, he had a wee brother and sister, he was making the money.”
Witnesses told researchers that dealers preferred exploiting children for such jobs because they were easier to dominate and more reliable than other recruits, such as addicts themselves.
Children growing in or around crime families often see gangs are the only way to get ahead in life. One resident said the two biggest ways out of his area were “football players and crime”.
This is the story researchers believe Scotland has to change: the crime offers a way out of poverty. Their interviews with prisoners suggest even those dragged in to gangland culture know it is a myth. Such “foot soldiers” or “small fry” knew the people profiting where not those on their streets. One said: “The people who are making all the money, aren’t the ones at the front line, they’re using other people to do it.”
The report concluded: “Service delivery involving casework with convicted offenders and young people on the ‘cusp’ of organised crime, should emphasise the distance between myth and reality.”